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Whatever other equipment is improvised, a scout will probably have or get a sleeping bag. A major step to scouts enjoying a camp is being warm and comfortable at night. After all, we expect that at home!

Like most camping equipment, there is a great choice of styles and fillings, depending on the use and price. Of course, the object of a sleeping bag is to insulate the sleeper and for most scout uses, this is sufficient: waterproofing is provided by a groundsheet (see below).

Warmth Because a lot of body heat can be lost both to the air and to the ground, it is important that the sleeping bag is padded all round. Insulation is almost always produced by having a fibre filling that traps air: the thicker the layer of fibres, the warmer the bag. Other factors, including type of filling, style, method of stitching and zips, all affect the warmth that the bag can hold. These are described below. Most sleeping bags are described in terms of the seasons for which they are suitable. Since scouts do camp in spring and autumn, a three seasons bag (spring, summer, autumn) is best, and blanket(s) and a camp mat (see below) can be used for additional warmth.

Fillings. Man-made fillings tend to give an uninterrupted filling, rather than clumping together. The bag remains insulating, and warm, even when wet, unlike with natural fillings. However, any man-made filling will get less effective with age as it becomes less springy or empty patches appear.

Zip. Sleeping bags vary from having no zip to having a very long zip so that the bag can be opened out for use as a quilt at home. The disadvantages of having a zip are that it can break open and that it lets in cold. The second disadvantage is not usually much problem except when it is very cold outside. The advantages of a zip are that it makes the bag easier to enter and in warm weather it can be left partly open to stop overheating.

Shape. The main thing to check here is that the bag is big enough both now and in a few years. The bag should be at least 6 feet long and 2 feet 6 inches wide at the top. Some bags are tapered, but a common shape for less cheap bags is ‘mummy’. Mummy bags have a box shape foot, to provide more room there and an extra part that comes up behind the head. A draw cord enables this to be pulled around the head like a hood. Great in cold weather.

Weight. Most scout camps are "standing" in one place, but most scouts in the Troop do backpacking at some stage, which involves carrying their camping equipment, including their sleeping bag. So weight and compactness when folded may be important, but should be secondary to warmth. To a large extent, lighter sleeping bags are more expensive for the same warmth.

Compactness depends on how squashy the filling is, and it is important that the filling springs back to full bulk after unfolding. Most better quality fillings have this property. For the frequency of backpacking in the Troop, any sleeping bag can be rolled, pack in a plastic bag and tied on the outside of the backpack. So bulk is of relatively minor importance, except if considering a long term purchase.

Storage. Except for transport, sleeping bags should preferably be stored either completely unfolded, or folded only loosely, so permanent thin spots do not form. A compromise is to store loosely in an old pillow case, so air can get in, but the bag is not squashed for long periods.

You are reminded of the importance of airing the sleeping bag thoroughly after dry cleaning. The fumes are poisonous.


Stuff sack. Most sleeping bag come with one. If not, this is a great purchase (less than a fiver, maybe), so that sleeping bag is stuffed inside for carrying. Much, MUCH better than a black bin liner!!!! Most synthetic sleeping bags are designed to be stuffed, rather than folded then rolled to put into their bags.

Groundsheet. All scouts are expected to bring and use a personal, plastic groundsheet to camps. This is important, because tent groundsheets may not be 100% waterproof, and in spite of precautions may get dirty during the day. The personal groundsheet is unrolled at night to form a clean, dry surface for the sleeping bag. It provides essential insulation from rising damp, whether or not a camp pad is used. Any plastic sheet will do, and it should be about 1 metre by 2 metres.

Note: a picnic blanket or similar - with a blanket-like side - is not suitable, as if it gets any wetness, it is unusable.

Sleeping pad. Most scouts have a camping pad, to provide extra insulation (and cushioning) under them. The sleeping bag insulation tends to get squashed and less effective underneath. These pads are of “closed cell foam” and any camping shop will sell them. Open cell foam (ordinary sponge foam) is much less effective and will soak up water: don't use.Closed cell foam has the outside sealed, so does not absorb water.

Blanket. Unless the sleeping bag is very warm, it is wise to pack a blanket, as even in summer it can get cold at night. This needs to be big enough, so there will be no gaps and will go literally head-to-foot (and a bit more - beyond feet and above the head), so it minimises the opening at the top of the sleeping bag and can be tucked under the sleeping bag ALL THE WAY ROUND. A second blanket might be a good idea in very cold weather.

Sleeping bag liner. While a cotton (or silk) liner) help keep the bag clean, a thermal liner is an excellent alternative to a blanket. Just excellent (and smaller, lighter)

Sleeping clothes. What is worn in bed is important in cold weather: home pyjamas may not be warm enough (e.g. tin, short sleeves). Warm, loose clothes or pyjamas for bed are a good idea: e.g. a "fleecy" track suit, but this must be extra from any brought for day use and should not be worn during the day.

A woolly hat (separate from daytime hat) is also good: if a head is sticking out of the sleeping bag, it loses a lot of heat. There is an old camping lore: if your feet are cold, put a hat on.

Think ahead. For longer camps, it may be worth considering where scouts will lay their heads! While a normal pillow is bulky, both to take and look after, a small cushion or a small inflatable pillow might be considered and packed into a corner. Cut a cheap pillow in half and fold it into a small pillowcase